There are a number of ways to keep our brains healthy, a nationally known neuropsychologist told Golden Valley High School teachers, students and administrators last week.
Paul Nussbaum , an adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, zeroed in on nutrition, physical activity, spirituality, socialization and mental stimulation as aspects of a brain-healthy lifestyle.
He has 25 years experience in caring for people suffering with head injuries, dementia and related disorders.
These five aspects are relatively co-equal in maintaining a healthy brain, Nussbaum said. An expert in human behavior, he is a consultant, author and public speaker.
About 103 Golden Valley teachers and 286 juniors and seniors who mentor other students attended presentations in the school theater during the daylong professional development sessions.
Nussbaum, 49, considers the human brain a miracle and an instrument of reasoning beyond comparison.
He spends much of his time working with patients who have Alzheimer's, and gives presentations to business people involved with finance, insurance, software and retail, as well as educators and health care providers.
To keep one's brain healthy, Nussbaum suggests people remain integrated and involved in life, develop hobbies, build friendships, maintain a meaningful role and not retire. He urges people to walk 10,000 steps or a mile a day, dance, knit, garden or take part in aerobic exercise.
Nussbaum also urged the student mentors to play board games, learn a second language, learn sign language, surf the Web and travel, because that exposes people to the stimulation of adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings.
"Don't let others define who you will be," Nussbaum said. "Coffee, nicotine, cocaine and LSD can affect the structure of the brain and will place you at a disadvantage. The brain has the ability to do great things for how much power it has."
Brains weigh 2 to 4 pounds and are composed of 60 percent fat. Twenty-five percent of the blood from each heartbeat goes to the brain. People can shape their brains for health and delay the potential onset of Alzheimer's, a deadly disorder afflicting 5.4 million Americans.
"No greater, more sophisticated miracle comes close," Nussbaum said. "We always underestimate its capacity and power."
Nussbaum also urged students to embrace spirituality, including praying daily, going regularly to a house of worship, learning relaxation procedures and how to meditate. He suggested that people eat as much fish as possible and decreasing the intake of processed foods.
He said people suffering chronic anxiety can develop memory problems as part of the brain's automatic stress response.
His advice to stressed-out students was to close their eyes and relax. He said anxiety will limit a person's ability to perform at their best.
Christine Charitar, 17, a senior, said she was glad she attended Nussbaum's talk.
"I didn't realize how important this was," Charitar said. "I might want to make some changes."
Daniel Torres, also a senior, said he thinks Nussbaum answered many questions people will be asking in the future. He said that schools should hold such sessions more often.
Nussbaum had encouragement for the students.
"You don't need to be scared," Nussbaum said. "You are all OK, beautiful people with so much to share. Love, hope, forgiveness, patience and compassion are medicines."
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.